St. Petersburg Preview

By the time you read this on Friday morning, Susan and I are probably scurrying around our hotel room in order to get to the track at a relatively early hour. As I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, this was sort of a last minute decision to come down here for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Consequently, we had to book a hotel about thirty-five minutes to the northwest in Clearwater. We could have stayed in some of the remaining rooms in St. Petersburg, but I wasn’t too keen on shelling out between $400 and $800 per night. So we’ll just deal with a slightly longer daily commute. Besides, I’m not really complaining about having to stay in Clearwater, FL in February.

If you are reading this site, you probably already know that the NTT IndyCar Series kicks off the 2022 season this weekend. Except for the February start, things are almost back to normal with the schedule. In 2020, the season didn’t start until June at Texas and was run with no fans in attendance. St. Petersburg and three other races were originally cancelled at the start of the season. The GMR Grand Prix was moved to July and the Indianapolis 500 was moved to August. Belle Isle was then cancelled and Road America was moved back about three weeks. Eventually, St Petersburg was the season-finale instead of the 2020 season-opener.

As a precaution, St. Petersburg was moved back about a month, and Barber was moved back a week. The 2021 season started with Barber as the season-opener, with St, Petersburg following one week later, then the Texas double-header the week after that. Once the season got started, things were pretty compacted, with few weekends off.

Things are a lot more normal this season. After St. Petersburg, it is a full three weeks before the nnext race at Texas. Three weeks later, the series runs again at Long Beach. Three weeks after that, will be Barber. Two weeks later, the usuall three-weekend Month of May stretch takes place, culminating with the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I prefer an every two weekends schedule, but that’ll happen in the summer.

Susan and I attended this race once before, in 2019. That event took place the weekend of March 10, a couple of weeks later than this year’s race. You can tell the difference. The predicted high temperature for the entire weekend is today, at 77°. Three years ago, it was about 85° on Race Day. Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of only 74°. Again, I’m not complaining, nor am I gloating. I’m just stating a fact that it will be a little cooler for this year’s race than normal.

Anticipation seems high for this race. It is finally once again the opener, and there will be no restrictions on fans for the first time since the last time we were here. When we checked into our hotel on Thursday, there were several IndyCar fans milling about.

There are five former winners of this race entered this weekend; Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta. Castroneves has won this race three times, more than anyone else in history. Multiple winners also include Will Power and Josef Newgarden. One name that is curiously missing from the list is Scott Dixon. This is one of the few tracks where Dixon has never won.

Street races are normally a great event, but the racing can be suspect – as we’ve seen with Long Beach and Nashville. This event provides some of the better racing you’ll see on a street race. It also provides one of the more scenic backdrops on the schedule. There are three distinct areas of this fourteen-turn, 1.8 mile street course. The main straightaway is a runway, part of the Albert Whitted Airport. It funnels into Turn One which produces most of the action on this circuit.

The second part is the northern part of the track, which winds through downtown St. Petersburg and encircles Pioneer Park, a wooded city park that offers interesting vantage points for fans. The third and most scenic part runs south, down Bay Shore Drive. There the cars have the yachts in the harbor on one side, the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center (which also serves as the Media Center for the weekend) and the famous Salvador Dali Art Museum on the other. That is where Turn Ten is located, which ultimately leads back to the runway/main straightaway.

This is the nineteenth Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, counting one under the CART umbrella in 2003. Ten of the previous eighteen have been won by Team Penske, three have been won by Andretti Autosport (including last year with Colton Herta). Dale Coyne has won twice here, while Chip Ganassi Racing, Newman/Haas and Forsythe Racing have won one each.

Josef Newgarden won twice in a row, in 2019 and 2020, and finished second to Herta last year. He obviously has this place figured out. Logic has it that he and Team Penske will win another this weekend. But sometimes logic doesn’t always come out on top. Team Penske will add another St. Petersburg win to their long resume, but it won’t be Newgarden in Victory Lane on Sunday. I think Will Power will go against his recent history and have a strong start to his season. He qualified poorly here last season, but moved up to finish eighth after starting twentieth. So look for Will Power to take the top step of the podium on Sunday.

Practice One for the NTT IndyCar Series at 3:40 pm EST, and will be shown live on Peacock. Practice Two gets underway Saturday morning, at 9:00 am EST on Peacock. Qualifying will start Saturday at 12:30 pm and will be shown exclusively on Peacock. The Sunday Morning Warm-Up will take place at 8:45 am on Peacock, and the race will be shown live on NBC at Noon.

As usual, we will both be posting here throughout the weekend, with updates, photos, videos and travel/dining info if you ever care to enjoy this event in person. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter for more and immediate photos, videos and comments. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog, and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back here a little later.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “St. Petersburg Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Surprised Ganassi has not been more successful at St. Pete over the years.

    So glad that Indycar season has begun!

  2. northeastvista Says:

    Glad you and Susan got to go to St Petersburg. Enjoy the race and the weather

  3. Finally!! Racing! Have fun you two.

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